Comment and insight on journalism issues from Press Gazette's guest writers

Should any media organisation have so much power?

The Guardian and the BBC and the liberal left used the phone-hacking scandal and Leveson to attack Sky, and Rupert Murdoch and his attempt to consolidate what they saw as his excessive power and influence in the media.

Then, like a backhand winner in tennis, the right-of-centre press and TV media – that’s frankly the Mail, Times and Sky – picked up on the Savile scandal to retaliate against the BBC, Guardian etc.

The media as a whole are using the scandals to have a go at their philosophical and political enemies.

Personally the local TV industry that I work in has been affected and we have not had the real debate.

Originally, the idea was to spend £80m of public money over five years on local TV for a truly democratic media landscape across at least 65 cities with the remaining majority of funding coming from commercial – the Channel 4 model.

As the government came under pressure on hacking from the Guardian etc, this got reduced to £25million to be spent on transmission costs and the BBC may well win that contract. Only £15m will be given to local stations and the BBC has been given this money to allocate (through buying content) after it has top-sliced a hefty whack.

The reality is that the BBC has managed to restrict the freedom and democratic rights of local TV companies. To mention this is like heresy or the emperor’s new clothes, but this is the real issue. All big centralised companies hate grassroots power. That’s life, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s left or right, the real question is should any media organisation have so much centralised power?

Should the BBC be bigger or smaller and should it continue to receive public funding especially as BBC Worldwide is such a successful commercial proposition? And what about Channel 4, how should it be funded? Should Sky be allowed to grow? Is there enough plurality in national and local media and in local and national news? I’ve just watched Andrew Neil’s Sunday Politics Show with its absolutely unmissable centralised London bias. Okay, there are token regional inserts, which the BBC is now scattering like crumbs around many of its shows.

My agenda is localism and democracy. No wonder Scotland wants independence. No wonder northerners are not too impressed with London either. Democracy is the key issue. Giving everyone the right to the media in the way that the internet, Facebook and Twitter have done has led to the Huffington Post and citizen journalism. Why The Guardian and Roy Greenslade et al were so dismissive about local TV’s prospects of success was beyond me, until I thought this through and it’s obvious: If you’re pro- BBC you don’t want plurality, do you! Over to you Roy!

Well done to the DCMS and Ofcom! Oli Bird and colleagues have certainly put the work in and managed to reward the true founding mothers and fathers of local TV with licences. Debra Davis, the Canadian pioneer from City TV Birmingham, and Daniel Cass, from That’s Oxford and That’s Solent, are the latest to have been awarded the 12-year licences.

Recently the key people from the first seven winning stations met and the level of passion, consensus and support around the table was heartening.

Bill Smith is the owner of Belfast-based Local TV station The Latest

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